A half decade ago, I wrote an article including some of my favorite Vintage Ports, trying to mix it up by selecting some of the greats from the dozen most renowned vintages from 2003 back to 1966. In doing so, careful attention was paid to choosing high quality Vintage Ports from as many producers as possible, and ensuring that at the time, those specific Ports were affordable and easily accessible in the marketplace.
Note: here are the original parameters for the VP’s chosen back in 2007:
My following Top 12 recommendations are listed from oldest to youngest vintage date. The Vintage Ports included, span what I believe are the finest vintages of the past forty years. They are not necessarily my ultimate favorites from each vintage, but have the combined excellent balance of quality, affordability and availability today, as mentioned above. These are wines which can cellar for at least a decade and the majority, for at least double that. Prices listed are in US$ and represent the lower end of the spectrum that is currently available in the world, (as per winesearcher.com) although auction pricing is not included. Enjoy!
Soon after, I started to receive emails from readers who described their efforts to procure the entire lineup. One individual even wrote a Guest Corner article about his experience in tracking down and purchasing all twelve bottlings over a two year period. Little did I know that a person new to Port, who lived just three miles away from me, was also doing his best to accumulate a set of these Ports based on my article. In fact, Glenn Elliott wound up buying 2 complete sets.
Glenn approached me with the idea of opening an entire set of 12, all at one time and inviting members from our local tasting group as well as friends from the FTLOP Forum to participate. This was an extraordinarily generous gesture on Glenn’s part and he organized the entire event, which took place at the Marriott Hotel at Redmond Town Center on March 31st 2012.
Talk about life imitating art, this was more like déjà vu for me, but actually, it was the very first time I had the opportunity to drink these dozen Vintage Ports in one sitting. Glenn had some commitments to attend to and allowed me to do the decanting of the bottles and the entire lower floor of my home smelled like walking into a Port lodge. It was a thing of beauty.
That night, we gathered at the hotel and Glenn, better known as “Mr. Tawny” had arranged a very nice array of hors d’oeuvres to get the party started. It had been decided in advance to taste these from oldest to youngest, which some might find controversial; but it was a sound decision in this particular case and the vast majority of these Ports delivered on their promise of brilliance. Decanting had begun early that morning for the youngest Vintage Ports and the grouping from the middle aged VP’s took place closer to noon, while the two oldest bottles were decanted shortly thereafter.
You can read the original 2007 article Roy's Top 12 Vintage Ports and then compare with my current tasting notes below on the Top 12. The prices mentioned came by way of Glenn.
1966 Graham Vintage Port – At the time it was purchased: $175 and currently priced at $240. Medium ruby color with a broad tawny-pink meniscus. Singed caramel, cinnamon spice, clove, tobacco and maple fragrances prevailed. Medium-full, off-dry, pure flavors of grape and sinful crème brûlée, wonderfully textured with a hot streak in the middle and on the finish. The ending was medium-long, rich and smooth with a load of toffee. A delicious soft, yet viscous Port that still has another 15 years of solid drinking pleasure from here. 95 points 3/31/12
1970 Fonseca Vintage Port – $175 when purchased and $180-ish now. An exquisitely dark magenta hue with a clear rim. Vanilla, cassis, floral and minty notes make up this exotic bouquet. Considering it’s now 42 years of age, it shows lively acidity and amazing youthfulness. Rich, grapy, dark cherry flavors almost a perfect showing with some warmth and intensity in the middle and a long vibrant finish. Extra credit for having maintained such superb structural components. From the appearance, flavor profile and structure, blind … I’d have been guessing 1985, for sure. 97+ points 3/31/12
1977 Taylor Vintage Port – The initial bottle had a spongy, fully soaked cork that had leaked lightly. Several hours after decanting there was an unmistakable taint of TCA. So I pulled a bottle out of my cellar and decanted it, with only 5 hours open by the time the tasting began. 1977 Taylor ALWAYS benefits from at least 8-10 hours of time in decanter, in my opinion. This bottles still showed well, but would have been better a few hours later. My last sip was the best. Medium-dark scarlet red with light ruby rim. Black licorice, violets, briary, brown sugar. The palate offered medium weight, (typically this is full bodied when it has enough time to flesh out) spicy, lithe and fluid, off-dry, red currant and plum fruit, this typically shows a darker profile, with a long and nutty warming finish. Chewy, very smooth, delicious. 94+ points 3/31/12
1980 Dow Vintage Port – $75 upon purchase; currently sells for around $85. Inky and fully opaque with dark garnet edge. Lots of thick tears on the glass from lots of glycerin. Primary brambly blueberry and boysenberry fruit flavors are vibrant and rich, loaded with very fine round tannins and adorned by a long unctuous finish. It makes a huge impact, the structure of this youthful Dow now at 32 is impeccable -- built for serious, long term cellaring. I can guarantee this will be an amazing Port by the time it reaches fifty years of age; and it should still provide some fine drinking well beyond that point. Intensely focused and just an awe inspiring young Port. In my opinion, Dow is unquestionably the best 1980 VP! 94+ points 3/31/12
1983 Cockburn’s Vintage Port – $69 when purchased and Glenn mentioned it now sells for about $129. Medium dark ruby with a pink rim. Tight early on with a spicy cherry impression. Not corked and even many hours later it was still drinking beautifully. What a pleasant surprise to have one of the very rare, extraordinary ’83 Cockburn’s. Very spicy scents of cinnamon, clove, cedar and dark cherry. Spicy red licorice and blackcurrant flavors on the palate. Smooth, soft and velvety, seductively textured with great overall symmetry and a really long finish. I’ve always admired this 1983 VP, which at its best can deliver an elegant if not hedonistic impression. It has the ability to age for another 15-20 years. What a shame that corks have ruined the vast majority of bottles (75%) I’ve had since 2000. Before that, the TCA issue was less than 25%, from my experience. I’m not sure why it took so long for this issue to emerge, but I’ve found at times, the ‘83 Cockburn’s appears to be just fine, until it has reached the five hour mark in decanter; then, the TCA becomes terribly overt. 94+ points 3/31/12
1985 Fonseca Vintage Port – There’s only been a $5-$10 spread since Glenn purchased this bottle, but if you don’t own any of this Fonseca today, grab a case while it’s so affordable. Purplish-magenta color with a ruby-violet edge. Perfumed violet aromas and notes of briary blackcurrant and blackberry. Massively fruited, smooth and approachable, yet so brash and powerful with big gripping tannins. Silky smooth, with a baked cinnamon apple note and incredible depth in the mid-palate and intensity on the everlasting finish. Compact and complex, it will flesh out a bit in the coming decade. 1985 Fonseca is truly one of the greatest young Ports of our era and Bruce Guimaraens felt it was his best Vintage Port of all. 96+ points 3/31/12
1991 Croft Vintage Port – Nose of grape lifesavers, milk chocolate, herbs, cocoa powder and tar. Velvet-like sexy mouthfeel with strawberry and mocha flavors and so much fun to drink now with five to six hours of air time. Zesty acidity and refined soft tannins ensure this will age nicely through 2030. Love the texture and long chocolate infused finish. The 1991 was one of the big surprises of the entire tasting for guests not yet familiar with the exuberance and pure hedonism of this bottling. I believe it is the finest Croft VP between the 1945 and 2003 vintages! 94+ points 3/31/12
1992 Taylor Vintage Port – $179 upon purchase and $225 or thereabouts currently. An inky opaque beauty but sadly, quite badly corked. Surprisingly, there was no sign of TCA when I poured it back from decanter to the bottle about four hours earlier. Many in the room were unable to detect any TCA and one even declared this his favorite Port of the night. Dark fruits and underlying delicious flavors below the taint, but I just couldn’t get past the corkiness and it got worse throughout the night. Extremely tannic and a real shame this was an imperfect bottle. Not rated 3/31/12
1994 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – Purchased at $80 and it can still be found for about $90 today. Dark opaque and inky purplish-ruby optic. Reticent initially, this took time in glass to evolve and developed intoxicating scents of blueberry, mocha and an intricate charred - roasted note, followed by anise. By the end of our tasting the aromatics were even more pronounced, especially the cocoa – chocolate vibe. Concentrated, bold plum and boysenberry fruit, powerful and yet, seemingly coiled and restrained. So fresh and decadent in its sheer youthful skin, exquisitely balanced by generous acidity and tannins that seem like a blackstrap beast one moment and fully integrated the next. This Vesuvio possesses all you could ever ask for in a young Vintage Port and its harmonious nature with its sublime long finish, is delightful. Is this the greatest of all Vesuvio Vintage Ports to date? Most Port lovers I know would say “yes” without thinking twice. At 18 years of age, the youthfulness of this 1994 is hard to explain to those who believe that VP’s enter their prime drinking window at 20 years of age. More like 30-40 for this youngster; this will undoubtedly drink well for several decades beyond then, too. 95+ points 3/31/12
1997 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port – Purchased around its current selling price of $200. A huge disappointment considering it was the one Port I was most looking forward to try again. Aromatically, flaws were immediately evident as I nosed black rubber, a medicinal vitamin pill note and practically no fruit. This will sound bizarre, but I later sensed some burnt sugar, a lot of disparate aguardente and a game meat character. It possessed a smooth seductive palate presence, but then a funky taste of beef bouillon (that I specifically associate with Madeira), tar and chocolate, but nothing I consider to be fruit flavors. Not what I’d expect in a 1997 bottling, from arguably the best Port of the entire vintage. The Noval was extremely tannic and overall the structure was powerful and symmetrical, ending with a long and succulent finish that showed some of the same flawed characteristics mentioned above. Not rated 3/31/12
2000 Niepoort Vintage Port – Purchased at $64 and sells for $90 today -- IF you can find it. Violet tinged fully opaque color. Accented by figs, black licorice, just baked blueberry pie and milk chocolate. Extraordinary depth and abundant dark berry and mocha flavors with luscious smoothness and complexity throughout, resulting in the best young Port of the night for me. It’s not easy to understand a massively fruit driven young VP with near perfect structural material. A crazy overtly tannic beast also possessing focused lip smacking acidity which somehow managed a sense of impeccable balance and a very long, delicious finish, even by Niepoort standards. This continued to improve over several hours in the glass. My score would likely have been higher had this received an even longer decant. Beyond Noval Nacional, is this the best 2000 VP of all? 96+ points 3/31/12
2003 Quinta do Portal Vintage Port – Purchased at $69 and today it can be found circa $50 per bottle. Besides the elegant 1999 Portal VP, this has been my personal favorite Port produced by this relatively new shipper. Unusual scents of herbs, fennel, marijuana and Marionberry persist. This is an enormous young Port saturated with dense, chewy blackcurrant fruit, mocha, mint and figs. It requires a lot of air time in order to show at its best at this stage. Structurally, the 2003 is a very solid Port with forceful, granular tannins that will ensure decades of drinking pleasure. At 9 years old, this is a Portal that I would leave hibernating in the cellar as it will be far better in about two dozen years from now. Even then, it will deliver two or three more decades of fine drinking pleasure. Meanwhile, with a long enough decant you can drink this now and experience the palate crushing waves of fruit and wild length of the finish. However, unless you own several bottles, my strong suggestion is, “hands off!” 94+ points 3/31/12
RUTH & SANDY BECKER, BLAIR CURTIS & BRONWYN TURNER
Thanks to Glenn’s generosity, we were able to take part in this very educational Port tasting. Ten of the twelve bottles really delivered on their promise. The younger Vintage Ports that we tasted here can all age for a few more decades, and the bottlings on the other end of the spectrum still have plenty of life at this point. The average score for the bottles that showed properly are about as high as any Port tasting I’ve attended, a great lineup even if I am biased.
I did not keep score of all the votes that came in, but I paid close attention to the results for all attendees and their top 3 Ports of the night were:
- 1970 Fonseca
- 1985 Fonseca
- 1994 Quinta do Vesuvio